How to write a research grant proposal?

Today, I will discuss how to write a good research grant proposal. This topic is important for researchers, who are at the beginning of their careers and want to obtain funding for their research projects. A good research proposal can be career-changing as it may allow to secure considerable funding that may for example, help to obtain a promotion. On the other hand, a poorly prepared research proposal is likely to fail. To avoid writing a very long post on this topic, I will focus on the key points for writing a good project proposal.


Before writing a research grant proposal, the first step is preparation. Preparation should ideally start several weeks or months before the deadline. The reason is that writing a proposal takes time and that unexpected events may occur, which may delay the progress. Moreover, starting earlier allows to ask feedback from peers and to think more about the content and how to improve the proposal.

Another important aspect of preparation is to choose an appropriate funding program for the proposed research project.

The research question

A key aspect of preparing a research grant proposal is to choose a research question that will be addressed by the research project.

The key points to pay attention related to the research question are that: (1) the research question is new and relevant, (2) the research project is feasible within the time frame, using the proposed methodology and given the researcher(s)’s background and skills, and (3) the research project is expected to have an important impact (be useful). In the project proposal, the above elements (1), (2), and (3) need to be clearly explained to convince the reviewers that this project deserved to be funded.

Choosing a good research question takes time, but it is very important.

Literature review

Another important part of a project proposal is the literature review, which should provide an overview of relevant and recent studies on the same topic. It is important that the literature review is critical (highlight the limitations of previous studies) with respect to the research question. Moreover, the literature review can be used to highlight the importance of the research question, and its potential impact and applications.

References should be up-to-date (preferably from the last five years). But older references can be included, especially if they are the most relevant.


A good proposal should also clearly explain the methodology that will be used, and the theoretical basis for using that methodology.

About carrying out experiments, one should explain how participants will be recruited and/or data will be obtained, how big the sample size will be(to ensure that results are significant), how results will be interpreted, and how do deal with issues related to ethics.

If a methodology is well-explained and detailed, it indicates that the researcher has a clear plan about how he will conduct the research. This is important to show that the project is feasible.

Timeline of the project

To further convince reviewers that the project will succeed, it is important to also provide a clear timeline for the project. That timeline should indicate when each main task will be done, by who, and what will be the result or deliverables for each task. For example, one could say that during the first 6 months, a PhD student will do a literature review and write a journal paper, while another student will collect data, and so on.

The timeline can be represented visually. For example, I show below a timeline that I have used to apply for some national research funding. That project was a five year projects with three main tasks. I have divided the task clearly among several students.

Note that it is good to mention the names of the students or staff involved in the project, if the names are known. It can also be good to explain how the students will be recruited.


It is also useful to mention the equipment or facilities that are available at the institution where the researcher works, and that will help to carry the project.


Another very important aspect is to write clearly what will be the expected impact of the research project. The impact can be described in terms of advances in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of benefits to the society or economy. In other words, the proposal should explain why the project will be useful.


A project proposal needs to also include a budget that must follow the guidelines of the targeted funding source. It is important that the amounts of money are reasonable and justifications are provided to explain why the money is required.

Team, institution, and Individual

A proposal should also explain that the applicant and its team have the suitable background and skills required for successfully conducting the project. This is done by describing the background and skills of researchers, and how they fit the project.


In this blog post, I have discussed the key points that a good research proposal should include. I could say more about this topic, but I wanted to not make it too long for a blog post.

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor working in China and founder of the SPMF open source data mining software.

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